Years ago, when I was a college student, I had a part-time job reading for a blind guy. He was a law student and my job was to read him "constitutional law". He'd set up a recording device so he could re-listen to the documents I read and study them later. I read the U.S Constitution a couple of times, lots of decisions, dissensions, books about legal thinking—like that.
Unfortunately our study sessions happened to conflict with the afternoon broadcast of "Dark Shadows," a vampire-infested soap opera, which, trust me, was a lot more interesting than constitutional law. Even though I was paid by the hour for this great job, part of it was watching Barnabas-the-vampire and his lot—and describing every floor squeak, every door-hinge creak, every physical attribute of every player in the daytime drama.
Later, when I became committed to audible books, I noticed that some very famous film and theater stars were recording books that only the blind could access. These books were distributed on specific kinds of audio tape, designed for specific kinds of players. The idea behind these Talking Books (a program created by the U.S. Congress in 1931) was to render books unusable by the general public to protect intellectual property while allowing US patrons free use of the material.
Famous people sometimes traveled to the special recording studio in Washington D.C. and recorded books and magazines under pseudonyms. Along with the writers and publishers of these works, they wanted to contribute to the visually impaired without their work being exploited financially by others.
One of the centers for distribution of these Talking Books is right here in Northwest Indiana. The Indiana Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped sub-regional library encompasses Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jaspar Counties. Renee Lewis, is Coordinator for Talking Books, at the Lake County Library in Merrillville. She says they have about 700 patrons use these books now. "Mostly they're older people," she says. "People in their seventies and eighties. We even have a couple who are over 100 years old."
As technology gallops along, newer delivery devices for these talking books have become available. A few years ago the National Library for the Blind actually ran a contest to see who could come up with a device that was the easier to use and cheaper to create. The new downloadable digital devices are the result. You need a special National Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) account—which is not that hard to set up if you have a doctor's report that you are visually impaired or otherwise handicapped.
Ms. Lewis explains the catalogue of available Talking Books is comparable to the audio books and magazines available through libraries and publishing houses. But you still need a special "App" for your machine, which can handle these recordings intended for the visually impaired.
My father-in-law has macular degeneration and has been assisted greatly through the Lighthouse for the Blind. They help him sign up for programs that allow him to use a computer, to copy and print items in larger type, and lately to use the new digital offerings.
One of the newest gadgets designed for visually-impaired people makes it easier to "save your place" when you plan to return to listening later; another is a "nap control" set-up, which stops the machine and holds your place after 5 or 10 or 30 minutes—whenever you think you might be falling asleep.
Now I'm wondering why all the recorded books offered by libraries to sighted people can't be made available to blind people on the devices that are easier for them to use. Libraries have to pay publishers a fee for these books anyway. And I'm also wondering why people such as me are having such a darn hard time getting the "chapter designations", the "bookmarks" and the "nap alerts" downloaded to the correct keys on their machines. Even when we pay for the darn books.
The good news for all us 60-Somethings is that technology is making access to ideas easier. Hopefully by the time we need special tools our libraries will be helping us get them.